If Guitar Hero is to be described as the McDonalds of the games industry (at least for the purpose of this review), then Guitar Hero On Tour for the Nintendo DS is its Happy Meal.
A bit-sized chunk of Guitar Hero for those on the go, and those, equally, with small hands and a love for the handheld deeper than anyone who has the game on home console. I say this because the fundamental issues that immediately arise out of playing this portable rhythm entrant are enough to not want to pick it up again. It is uncomfortable, difficult to play and equally difficult to master if you have normal sized hands and ultimately negates the purpose of the series in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a clever idea and stands as a great usage of the DS, it just comes across more as cheap option for the game that may be best left for use by young ‘uns console-less
, or crazy people looking to speed up their RSI claims at work.
So it’s plainly obvious one of the key factors here is the anti-ergonomic design of the peripheral needed to play the game. Basically it’s four of the buttons pulled from the guitar peripherals (Green, Red, Yellow and Blue) which are attached to the DS through the GBA cartridge slot aboard a small handheld device. There is a strap to keep the connected units in place and you turn the DS on its side in a similar fashion to the myriad of Brain Games on the system in order to play.
The peripheral comes with a plectrum shaped stylus (you can just use a normal stylus which I found far more comfortable) and when you’re playing, the touch pad becomes your virtual guitar tool-set that consist of strings (to strum), the whammy (used by holding the stylus to the screen on long notes and moving it back and forth) and your star-power activator (done so by either blowing on the face if you’re too sane to start yelling “Rock Out” into the DS’ microphone or simply by touching a button or tapping the touchpad at the appropriate time). Now all of this seems like it could work quite well, and to a certain degree it does. For the most part it’s all very functional, but problems arise during the difficulty of certain songs and through playing for elongated periods of time.
To be perfectly honest, I barely made it through my first song (“All The Small Things
” - Blink 182
) after I jumped into the game on Expert, and this was mostly because the dexterity required to play was working against the size of my hand. Moreover, the more difficult the song (and note barrage), the more likely you’re going to be shaking the DS around, making it really difficult to maintain focus on the tiny screen.
After that little debacle, I dropped the difficulty to Medium and tried to maintain a steady hand on the unit and after a while actually found myself in far more control. However, despite this my hand really did start to hurt which is something I’m confident Activision, Red Octane and developer, Vicarious Visions, are more than aware of as the game comes with a heady warning right at the start to put the unit down and have a break if you should start to feel uncomfortable while playing.
A handful of tracks come to mind as songs simply too difficult because
of the set-up’s shortcomings. “Breed
” - Nirvana
and “Rock And Roll All Nite
” - Kiss
are stand-outs here (Kiss mainly for the solo and Nirvana for the speed) and end up being songs you don’t
want to play, which, as I mentioned in my intro totally negates
the intended Guitar Hero experience.
Beyond playing tracks, the usual Guitar Hero set-up can be found here. You earn money for playing shows in Career Mode that can then be spent on unlocking new guitars, new guitar skins and coats and new characters and outfits. Unfortunately you can’t buy any songs meaning for the most part, the stuff you can spend your cash on is purely aesthetic and given the size of the screen, you’re hardly going to be paying much attention to how your character looks or what kind of coat you’ve added to your guitar.
Multiplayer sees you and one other friend able to face off against each other in a series of modes such as Face-Off (battling across specific guitar tracks), Pro Face-Off (battling each other across the Single-player guitar tracks), Co-Op (one person plays lead and the other plays either rhythm or bass) and finally Guitar Duel (essentially a tug-of-war style game where you earn battle items to hinder the other player). It’s a fairly neat option, but you’ll likely need a friend with equally small hands or just crazy enough to endure the pain.
With all the rhythm game talk being overrun by Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2 (though only around 2% of the Aussie population even have an idea of what Rock Band is thanks to EA’s inability to recognize us as a viable market), Guitar Hero On Tour
could very well be looked over for those of us waiting for the real deal. This isn’t helped by the game’s uncomfortable nature and streamlined feature-set truly letting it live up to my earlier claim it’s essentially the Happy Meal of the Guitar Hero universe. Really, this is better left looked at for frequent travelers who don’t get enough GH at home, kids who love their DS or anyone with really, really tiny hands.